NEW YORK -- Gerrit Cole's reaction was to duck, one of his best fastballs making solid contact with Joey Wendle's bat barrel for a seventh-inning single. The Yankees' ace glanced toward his dugout, saw no movement and focused on the next hitter. With his team scuffling, this was a jam he wanted to handle himself.
Yet Cole seemed fatigued as he stared toward Yoshi Tsutsugo, trying a changeup that hovered near the bottom of the strike zone. That 109th offering of the afternoon got smacked to the gap in right-center field, chasing home the deciding run of the Yankees’ fifth consecutive loss, a 4-2 defeat on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
"Good things are on the horizon, but I don't have the magic wand," Cole said. "I don't know when it's going to turn. Right now when you're going through it, you've just got to keep grinding and play hard baseball."
New York managed just 11 hits while being swept in the three-game weekend series.
"We’re frustrated,” LeMahieu said. “They have good pitching, but I feel like we have a better lineup than we showed this series, and we’ve showed this year so far. No one's going to feel sorry for us; no one's going to throw softer or throw easier for us. We’ve got to find it within ourselves to continue to get better and play the way we're capable of.”
At 5-10, the Yankees are off to their worst start since 1997 -- a season in which manager Joe Torre’s defending World Series champions rebounded to win 96 games before falling to the Indians in the American League Division Series.
Manager Aaron Boone’s club entered the young campaign as one of the AL favorites, but thoughts of postseason play seem a long way off at this juncture.
“We’re getting punched in the mouth right now,” Boone said. “We’ve got to swing the bats better, period. We’ve got our ace on the mound today and just couldn’t mount enough.”
Cole’s 10-strikeout, no-walk line and pitch count were hurt by the Bombers’ sloppy outfield defense in the third inning, with Aaron Hicks misplaying two balls during a two-run frame for Tampa Bay.
Hicks seemed tentative on Kevin Kiermaier’s soft single, placing two runners on with none out. Yandy Díaz followed with a ground ball to center field that Hicks booted, allowing Mike Zunino and Kiermaier to race home. Clint Frazier also made an overaggressive throw that cost a base.
“When we're not doing other things or putting [runs] on the board like we are, every little thing kind of adds up,” Boone said.
Cole had retired 13 in a row before Wendle’s hard single. Tsutsugo’s seventh-inning double chased the righty, and the Yanks’ bats couldn’t respond. Working in relief of opener Andrew Kittredge, Ryan Yarbrough held New York to one run on two hits over five innings.
Wendle hit a ninth-inning homer off Darren O'Day, and Diego Castillo and Jeffrey Springs combined to retire the final seven Yankees in order. Boone said that Monday’s off-day should provide an opportunity to regroup.
“There will be some things that I consider about shaking some things up, no question,” Boone said.
Boos could be heard from the crowd of 10,606 after each of the outs in the ninth inning, loudest after Rougned Odor’s soft lineout that sealed the Yanks’ 18th loss in 23 tries against the Rays, dating to September 2019 and including the 2020 postseason.
“It just seems like we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves -- probably too much pressure,” LeMahieu said. “Early on, when you go through tough stretches, it's definitely magnified, and you feel like you're never going to get out of it. But we're too talented to play the way we're playing.”